After graduating as an M.D. from the University of Graz in 1984, Dr. Hermann Toplak went into military training in aeromedicine before becoming a resident in Laboratory Medicine at the Metabolism Unit of the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Graz.
He then became a resident in Surgery and Internal Medicine in the General Hospital of Rottenmann, Austria as well as the Metabolism Unit of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Berne, Switzerland. He has worked in the department of Medicine at the Karl-Franzens-University, Graz since 1988 and in 1990 he became Head of the Metabolism Unit.
Since October 1997, he has also been Specialist in Endocrinology and Metabolism and Associate Professor of Medicine. Dr. Toplak is in charge of the entire Medical Curriculum in internal medicine at the Medical University, Graz.
Hermann Toplak is a member of various national and international associations such as the Austrian Obesity Association, where he was President from 1997-2000, and has been Vice President (President-elect) since 2010, of the Austrian Diabetic Association, where he has been a Council Member since 2005. Since 2001 he has been the Austrian representative on the General Council of IASO (now called World Obesity) where he is also involved with the Education Management Task Force, and since 2009 he has been the Secretary of EASO and is a member of the Obesity Management Task Force.
Hermann, we would love to learn more about Austria and the area you live in:
Austria is a quite small country – about the size of as Bavaria, one of the federal countries of Germany – and has about 8 million inhabitants, around 10% of the size of the German population.
Austria is a country with both a long-standing culture and tradition and modern architecture. My home city, Graz, with about 300,000 inhabitants, has the largest preserved old town in Europe and has been designated by UNESCO as a focal point of design and culture in Central and Southeastern Europe. The mixture of old and new shows the influences of Italian culture (we are south of the alps) and can be felt in the open and friendly atmosphere. People enjoy the less stressful pace of life here.
I understand you have a unique talent and an interesting hobby. Please share a few of your favourite activities, hobbies:
When I was young I did best academically in natural scientific fields like physics, mathematics and chemistry. At the same time I started to sing, first in a boys’ choir and then in choirs principally performing church music, with pieces ranging from Rennaissance to modern music. During the past few years I have performed with a small Renaissance choir, performing a cappella pieces Palestrina, Vittorio, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis (whom I personally like very much). My other hobbies are biking, which I do almost daily, hiking, and cross country skiing (also known as alpine skiing). I also enjoy fine dining.
We are interested in learning more about the development of your professional interests:
When beginning my career, I came to study medicine with the aim of better understanding chemical, biochemical and physiologic processes and their pathologies. I have done a lot of work in basic science and working to uncover inborn errors of metabolism. Laterly I turned to diabetology and lipidology and finally, to obesity. We founded the first university obesity clinic in Austria in 1992 and have now more than 20 years of experience in this field.
In our culture, many people believed obesity was an unimportant condition. It was not until 1997 that we could finally found an Obesity Society, with 6 founding members. Today our society has about 200 members and is very active. We have increasingly tried to professionalize our work year by year, and broaden our view to include a range of multisectoral stakeholders, from patient to social insurance and health policy.
Hermann, what are the principal objectives you have identified for your presidency of EASO?
The main objective of my work is to bring high quality scientifically based treatment strategies to a as many people as possible throughout Europe and neighbouring countries. I see that many countries are very close to the European education system, even if they are outside Europe. We feel responsible to them also, especially in times when migrants from some of these regions come in huge numbers to Europe. I am always an advocate of person-centered medicine and try to integrate psychosocial thinking into our disease management strategies. I am also trying to reduce stigmatisation of patients with obesity which seems to be a challenging undertaking.
Anticipation is building for the upcoming 2016 European Obesity Summit. Please tell us about your vision for the Summit in June.
This is leads us directly to the question about the first European Obesity Summit in Gothenburg next year (2016). We have learned that all physicians and other health professionals must co-operate in developing an integrated multidisciplinary treatment of patients with obesity. Thus it is logical that we will endeavour to share information, science and strategies with one another. There is a lot to do, but I feel it is absolutely necessary. This meeting is a “trial balloon“ and we will see how it works and how/if we can further develop that.